kids cross rafah298 88ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
So now the deal to open up the Rafah crossing is done. That was the easy part, even though it took months of wrangling. The hard part will be for the Palestinian leadership to summon the determination to confront terrorism, without which no such agreement can work.
The issue is not whether it is desirable to try to improve the lives of Palestinians by allowing more Palestinian goods into Israel or allowing convoys to travel between Gaza and the West Bank. By instituting these measures, in addition to relinquishing Israeli control over the freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, we are essentially completing the withdrawal from Gaza of a few months ago.
"This agreement is intended to give Palestinian people the freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who applied the pressure on both sides that brought the negotiations to a close. And all that is well and good.
Where things get sticky, though, is in the joint monitoring room that is to be set up in Kerem Shalom, near the Rafah crossing. It is there that Israelis are to watch a live video feed of the security checks to be carried out at the border by Egyptian and Palestinian Authority security personnel. Monitors from the European Union will be scanning the screens as well - serving as referees should the Israelis wish to stop and search anyone passing through the terminal. This team of EU monitors, according to the agreement, "has the authority to order the reexamination and reassessment of any passenger, luggage, vehicle or goods."
Sounds tough, alright. But try to enforce it. Are these European monitors going to accede to every Israeli request to reexamine a suspicious person or parcel? Will their authority be respected by the PA and if not, what are they and their governments willing to do about it? More importantly, how committed are the Palestinians themselves to preventing weapons from being smuggled from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, or from the Gaza Strip into Israel? As the double suicide bombing on March 14, 2004, showed, elements of the PA have worked to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Israel from the Gaza Strip. That attack, in which two terrorists who penetrated the Ashdod port by hiding inside a false wall in a shipping container murdered 10 Israelis and wounds scores more, was made possible by a PA security agent who arranged for their passage through the Karni crossing. He was working with Hamas and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
Agreements per se will not quash terrorism; that requires a fundamental decision to do so, even in the face of great risk. Not only is that a decision that the PA has never taken in the past, but it is one that the PA's current leader has talked about much but has not translated into action.
On Tuesday, the same day that the Rafah agreement was being ironed out, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas went so far as to accuse Israel of being "determined that Palestinians pass through a civil war," from which we can conclude that he will not forcibly disarm Hamas or any other terrorist group.
Not that Abbas has much incentive to fight terrorists, other than his obligation in signed accords. After all, the same EU that is to send monitors to Kerem Shalom in a week's time has never taken practical steps to see that the PA upholds its obligations. Only Israeli military actions against terrorism, and not signed documents, have ever consistently provided a disincentive for the PA's cooperation with, and tolerance of, terrorist groups.
Among the lessons from the failure of the Oslo Accords is that, no matter how detailed an agreement is, it is worthless if it not backed by international support for holding the parties accountable. In simple terms: A deal without consequences is an inconsequential deal.
If the Palestinian leadership truly decides to confront and expunge the terrorists, this agreement will prove largely redundant and will be easily implemented. Absent such a decision, this agreement will be added to the heap of previously signed dead letters.